Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Calvinism and Stoicism (And Why They Are Not the Same Thing)

Calvinism and Stoicism are not the same, but they are often confused. Even by Calvinists.  Stoicism is the idea that all things are fated by God (not the Christian God, but a pantheistic sum of all things), and therefore we should face them with resignation.  The idea is that God wants His people to be tough and sends hard circumstances so they will be strong and self-contained and able to face hardship.  This is not the Calvinist position.

Quite the opposite.  Scripture teaches us that God sends adversity so we may learn we cannot handle it ourselves, but must trust God through it (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 46:1-11; Isaiah 40:29-31).  These two approaches can end up having the opposite effects.  The correct approach leads to humility, and the opposite can build pride, which is a real spiritual danger (Proverbs 16:18; Luke 14:7-11; 1 John 2:16).  Yet I know for myself how easy it can be to slip from trusting God to trusting in myself and my inner strength.  Let us watch ourselves in this regard.

It is easy to get two similar ideas confused, but in this case we need to be clear on the difference.  The difference is the fall and redemption. The Stoic believes the world is how God intended it to be and we need to be tough to fit in to it.  The Bible says the world is a fallen one in rebellion against God and we, as part of it, are sinners (Romans 8:19-23; 1 John 2:15-17; Isaiah 64:6) and God has rescued us from it (Romans 5:6-8; 1 Peter 2:24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21).  So we must trust the One who has rescued us from sin and death to bring us through the difficulties of life (Philippians 4:6,7; Matthew 6:33; Romans 8:18). This makes a fundamental difference in how we look at the trials we face.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bethesda Factor

Does God always heal if we just have enough faith? Jesus came to the Pool of Bethesda and found a crowd of sick people (John 5:1-17).  But Jesus approached and healed only one of them.  There is no indication that this individual had any high degree of faith (he was looking to be healed by being dipped in the pool). But Jesus only approached this one man. Now there are cases where it says Jesus healed all the sick brought to Him (Matthew 8:16; 12:15; Luke 4:40), but it is clearly speaking of those who happened to be there at that day and time.  But as Bethesda shows, Jesus could also be selective. We see this even more clearly in the case of the Apostle Paul.  Paul had a consistent record of praying for people and having them be healed (Acts 19:11,12), and he continued to do so at least till the near end of the book of Acts (Acts 28:1-10) and most probably beyond it.  Yet he could not obtain healing for himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) or Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), or Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), or Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). 

Therefore, God does not heal in every case nor has He ever healed in every case.  Now many who believe healing has passed away at the present time seem to believe that in New Testament times, God did always heal, and now He has ceased doing it.  But I would suggest that while God still heals today (and I see no basis in Scripture for believing He does not), He never healed in every case. Now it is true that faith is a factor in whether an individual is healed (Matthew 13:58; 9:22; Mark 2:5).  Though the one case where the disciples failed to accomplish a miracle (it was casting out a demon rather than a healing), Jesus rebuked the disciples for lack of faith, not the demonized boy or his father (Matthew 17:14-20).  He then cast out the demon based on the father's shaky faith (Mark 9:14-29).  But though faith is a factor, it is also clear that there is in healing a matter of God's will, and to assume that God will heal everyone if they only have enough faith is simplistic. Therefore, we should pray to God that He will heal people but be willing to accept the fact that there may be cases where it is God's will not to heal. And we should avoid jumping to the conclusion that if someone is not healed it is because of their lack of faith.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Old Knight and the Young Knight

An old knight and a young knight met when riding through the forest.  The young knight had the newest innovations in his armor.  His sword had a special power point, and from his belt hung the newest of electronic gadgets.  His armor was covered with bright colors meant to impress and attract those of a neutral persuasion to join themselves to his side.  The older knight had more subdued armor, encrusted with the discreet ornaments of legalism.  His sword was old and battle worn, touched with the rust of archaic usage.  But both wore the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness, so they met as servants of the King and not as sworn enemies.

"I have not seen you around here before," said the old knight.  "New in the area?"

"I just graduated from Knight School,"  replied the young knight, "where we learned the newest techniques.  Just looking at your outfit, you could use a brush-up."

"I've been around the forest a lot of years.  I reckon this old armor will take care of me like it always has."

"Maybe," remarked the young knight, "but it looks too worn-out to take a serious testing."

They parted and rode off in opposite directions, each shaking his head at the other.  As the young knight rounded a grove of trees, he was startled by a loud roar.  He turned his head and saw the huge yellow form of a lion streaking toward him. He reached for his sword, but was not able to bring it to play before the weight of the lion rammed his horse and sent him flying through the air.  He was sitting on the ground, grasping his shield, as the lion charged.  While he did not have time to rise to his feet, he was able to bring up his shield to deflect the charge.  He twisted his shield back and forth, warding off the lion's claws and teeth.  One swipe from a claw got around the shield, but was turned back by his breastplate. The young knight was beginning to tire when he heard the sound of approaching hoofs.  Before the lion could turn a sword swung down, instantly severing his head from his body. 

"That's a good shield you have there," said the old knight, for such was his rescuer.  "I'm not sure mine would have held up that well after such a battering."

"It's nothing," replied the young knight.  "You really must teach me that sword stroke."

And they rode off together, laughing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Staking Our Claim

One thing that prospectors do is stake claims.  The rest of us have a tendency to do the same thing.  We stake claims to various things as belonging to ourselves.  Yet can we really stake a claim to anything when everything we have comes from God (Job 1:21; Matthew 6:25-34)?  Also, as C. S. Lewis points out in "The Screwtape Letters," there are various senses of the word "my".  It can range from "my God" to "my country," "my church," "my wife," and all the way down to "my boots."  According to Lewis, Satan's strategy is to reduce everything to the level of "my boots."  Something that belongs to me that I can do whatever I feel like with. Sometimes we can be very spiritual about this.  We can speak of "my ministry" (as opposed to other people's ministries), "my Bible study group" (as opposed to other people's Bible study groups), "my church" (as opposed to other congregations) or "my denomination" (even if the differences between it and other denominations are Biblically minor).  Therefore we can promote our ends while claiming to be spiritual. 

Yet God takes the opposite approach.  He says we should put other people before ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4; Romans 12:9-21).  He even set the example by giving up His rights in order to redeem us (Philippians 2:5-11; Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16).  And if we have been redeemed, we not only belong to God because of His creating us (Psalms 139:13-16), but also because He has redeemed us (1 Corinthians 6:20).  Therefore we should stop staking claims to things, but offer everything we have, including ourselves (Romans 12:1,2), to live for Him.